The Laura Shannon Prize

2016 Award - Humanities

Birth Certificate: The Story of Danilo Kiš

by Mark Thompson
Publisher: Cornell University Press (2013)

February 5, 2016: The Nanovic Institute for European Studies has awarded the 2016 Laura Shannon Prize in Contemporary European Studies to Mark Thompson for his book, Birth Certificate: The Story of Danilo Kiš, published by Cornell University Press.  A. James McAdams, director of the Nanovic Institute for European Studies, praised the book as “an extraordinarily imaginative book that shows us how biography can provide a lens into understanding major historical crises.” Mark Thompson will accept the award and present a lecture at the University of Notre Dame in the fall of 2016.

The $10,000 Laura Shannon Prize has been described as “a major landmark in the world of humanities research and publishing” in the Anglophone world by Sir Christopher Clark, Regius Professor of History at the University of Cambridge.  It is awarded annually to the author of the best book in European studies that transcends a focus on any one country, state, or people to stimulate new ways of thinking about contemporary Europe as a whole, and recognizes alternately books in the humanities and in history & social sciences.  This cycle considered books in the humanities published in 2013 and 2014. 

Jury Statement

Birth Certificate by Mark Thompson

Mark Thompson’s Birth Certificate is an eloquent biography of a major Yugoslav writer too little-known in the Anglophone world.  Impressive, eccentric, at times controversial, Danilo Kiš (1935-1989) belonged to many cultures and traditions. He is best-known for his playfulness with literary form.  Thompson traces his career with an eye toward Kiš’s literary significance. What is remarkable about this biography is how skillfully it relates literary significance to shifts in the history of central Europe. The biography is itself a formal tour de force, combining journal fragments, photographs, and interviews with Thompson’s own beautifully-written prose. Richly informative, Birth Certificate is a brilliant case for Kiš’s importance in cultural history.  As Thompson concludes: “From Kosovo’s ethnic tyranny to Diderot’s enlightenment and beyond—to Joyce, Borges, and a reunited Europe—is almost too far to measure; but it is there, along that spectrum, that Kiš’s writing shines most brightly.” This book illuminates that brightness, and we hope that this imaginatively-printed volume will introduce more readers to this complex figure.

About the Author

Mark Thompson is Reader in Modern History at the University of East Anglia (U.K.).  His career has included various positions with United Nations missions, with civil society organizations, and in journalism. 

Mark Thompson, photo provided

2016 Jury

Karl Ameriks
McMahon-Hank Professor of Philosophy
College of Arts and Letters, University of Notre Dame

John E. Hare
Noah Porter Professor of Philosophical Theology
Yale Divinity School, Yale University

Anne Lake Prescott
Senior Scholar and Emerita Helen Goodhart Altschul Professor of English
Barnard College, Columbia University

Ingrid Rowland
Professor of Architecture, University of Notre Dame Rome Global Gateway
School of Architecture, University of Notre Dame

Roger Scruton
Senior Fellow, Ethics & Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C.

Honorable Mentions

The jury also chose to award honorable mention to two books: Joy Calico’s Arnold Schoenberg’s A Survivor from Warsaw in post-war Europe published by the University of California Press and Krisztina Fehérváry’s Politics in Color and Concrete: Socialist Materialities​ and the Middle Class in Hungary published by Indiana University Press.

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